Sweetrocket's pastels at Denver Botanic Gardens

Sweetrocket's pastels at Denver Botanic Gardens

Unknown This post is deeply personal: The award-winnning contemporary painter Riva Sweetrocket is Telluride Inside… and Out's dearly beloved Denver neighbor. She is also an artist in the stable of the Plus+ Gallery, the Mile High City's outpost (at 2501 Larimer) for uncommonly talented artists with something to say, though they usually don't say it in common vernacular. Riva is currently the featured artist at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

A retrospective of Riva Sweetrocket's bold and beguiling pastels, "Riva Sweetrocket: Extra Ordinary," is  on display at Gates Garden Court Gallery through January 23, 2011, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

It is tempting to focus on Riva's means, the virtuosic way she uses the ancient medium of colored chalk. But these are definitely not your mother's pastel florals. It is equally tempting to describe Riva as a photo realist, but look again. True she depicts familiar objects with graphic naturalism –  but in paradoxical juxtapositions and unusual settings that smack of surrealism. Ordinary things infused with a sense of mystery also defines magic realism. The feminist subtext only adds another piece to the puzzle. Regardless of "isms," the effect is magnetic: once seduced, a person can't easily walk away from a Sweetrocket anymore than an addict can put down the New York Times Sunday Ken Ken puzzle.

IMGP1537 We know. We got hooked when Riva first showed us her work. At the top of our list of favorite things is an original Sweetrocket, which we bought from Ivar Zeile, owner of the Plus Gallery, just before he gave the artist her first big one-woman show. It was up, up and away from there.

The huge painting in our home depicts three women walking along a road to nowhere chattering away about nothing in particular. The street scene would be familiar were it not for the fact the lady in the middle of the group has blackbirds where her head should be. In Riva's idiosyncratic lexicon the birds are synonyms for the constant chatter that goes on in our heads and sometimes comes out in conversation.

As a yoga teacher, this girl can't help it: our Sweetrocket painting invariably conjures the second sutra (Book 1) of Patajali, the one that defines the state of yoga: "Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah," roughly, "The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga."

Yoga. Feminism.The vicissitudes of the American Dream. Personal narratives and universal stories of tragedy and triumph. It's all there in Sweetrocket's stunning, startling work.

"As a woman I have an inherent appreciation of the female perspective and my protagonist is often female. I also see nature as having feminine qualities, so these two elements seem to work synergistically together. Color and composition are important to me as well. My aim is to create eye-popping images that I, myself, will want to gaze at and I hope others will too."

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